on February 2, 2002
UPDATE: These first notes refer specifically to the Criterion Collection DVD Edition, Spine #660.
I'm not a cineaste or a film historian, just someone who saw the movie in a theatre in the 1960s and wanted to see it again. I am pleased to say that FINALLY we have a DVD edition that has good picture quality, worthy of the phrase "restored." I submitted negative reviews of two earlier DVDs that look like they were made from bad 16mm prints: contrasty, grainy, blurry, and flickery. The best way I can describe this one is to say that it is good enough--it recaptures my memory of the theatre experience. Obviously Criterion did some hard work, and obviously they must have had to piece together footage from different sources. It's very noticeable, for example, that all scene transitions retain the "grainy old 16mm look" for several seconds. Even the "good" parts look grainy in freeze-frame; I don't own a BluRay player but I suspect that BluRay wouldn't be much better.
But it's good enough. Some of the most memorable sequences, notably the flight of the "Basra bombers" and the "Building of the New City" sequence, now have the visual power I remember.
The good image brings out everything, including the movie's many flaws. It also reveals a lot of variation in the quality of the special effects. Many of which are really darn good, while others--the aircraft and spacecraft in particular--look like they are made of plywood.
It's a pity that the sound isn't better, but I don't remember the sound as being very good in 1960, either. This was optical sound of the 1930s and it's the way I remember optical sound as being. Not hi-fi. According to the commentary this movie was a pioneer in the use of dense, symphonic music. There are excellent modern recordings of the suite, and if you see this movie you owe it to yourself to listen to a modern recording, and I'll go so far as to recommend "The Film Music of Sir Arthur Bliss" on Chandos; search for "B00005A8EF" on Amazon.
I found the audio commentary by David Kalat to be excellent, witty, and informative, but I was disappointed that it wasn't really a scene-by-scene description and that nothing on the disk gives any details of just how the special effects were done.
To call the film "preachy" doesn't begin to describe it! Like 2001, the visual aspects carry the film, but the characters and dialog are awful. And I just can't believe the premise of the Theotocopoulos character being opposed to "Progress" itself, and the idea of a grand opposition between those who favor it and those who want mankind to "rest" and stop exploring. Just possibly there may really have been something of that feeling in England in the 1930s (G. K. Chesterton?), the humanists versus the British Interplanetary Society and so forth. But among the many big predictive "misses" in the movie, the contrast between the public attitude toward spaceflight in the movie, and in historic reality must be one of the biggest.
Anyway, I can recommend the Criterion Collection edition. It is a decent approximation to the way I remember the movie looking, I have finally gotten my chance "to see the film again," and in my personal opinion it is well worth watching.
NOTES ON EARLIER VERSIONS
NOTE: Unfortunately, I think the new colorized Harryhausen version has the same problems. See more below.
"Things to Come" was the "2001" of its day.
In the late sixties, I saw a clean print of this movie in a New York theatre and it blew me away. Although it is in black-and-white, it is visually spectacular; the story is exciting; and it has a wonderful score. The sound was mono optical sound, but it was crisp and clear and capable of delivering the impact of the Arthur Bliss music.
For years, I've owned a disappointing VHS copy, which looks as if it were made made from a dirty, blurry, over-contrasty 16mm print, and the sound quality is poor. I've yearned to see a clean copy.
So when I got my DVD player, one of the first things I did was to buy this release, which says that it "features a pristine new film-to-video transfer from original source materials."
I am sorry to say it looks EXACTLY like the cruddy old VHS version, and the mushy sound is completely unworthy of the composer and music director.
So, I don't know what to say. If you've never seen the movie _Things to Come_, I recommend the movie highly. But the image quality and sound on this DVD have, alas, that "lousy old 16mm print look."
UPDATE: I'm afraid I think the "Harryhausen" colorized version is just as bad. My remarks above were written about an earlier DVD, Alas, and to my great disappointment, apart from being colorized, I'm afraid that they do. My review was for an earlier DVD edition.
I had great hopes for this new release with the Harryhausen name, and I'm aware that apparently other reviewers' opinions differ from mine. I think they must never have a 35mm print of this film, though.
Black-and-white films from the late thirties are technically every bit as good as "Casablanca" or "Citizen Kane." This DVD still looks to me like a bad 16mm print. I'm not a purist, but the film grain is coarse and obvious. The framing is not steady. The exposure varies, giving an irregular flickery effect. It's not exactly blurry, but it's not as crisp and sharp as any ordinary DVD of any ordinary 1950 black-and-white movie. Comparing it to the earlier DVD, I'm not sure what "restoration" was done except for colorization.
I'm glad that people find this version enjoyable to watch, but _Things to Come_ is a minor landmark in cinema history, and a major landmark in science fiction cinema history. Like 2001, this film was a visual spectacle and low picture quality greatly reduces its impact. It deserves better than this.
on October 15, 2000
I have loved "Things To Come for over twenty years and have taught it in my classes. It is slow and talky for many viewers, but it is also indisputably a great film---in fact, with "2001: A Space Odyssey" and a few others, it is that rarest of works: a genuine, serious science fiction movie.
However, be warned. Most of the public domain prints out there are simply horrible, as many of the reviews on this page attest. I have viewed numerous prints of this film and had long ago given up hope of ever seeing the movie in anything resembling reasonable condition---and then came the Englewood Entertainment video, with its glorious "neon" packaging. The picture has been cleaned up a good deal, and is much less shaky and spliced than other versions;but the glory of this edition is the soundtrack. Major work has been done here, eliminating hiss and pops and rendering the dialogue easily comprehensible for the first time in my lifetime and revealing the fully rich beauty of Arthur Bliss's magnificent score. You simply have not seen "Things To Come" until you've seen the Englewood print!
Perhaps someday the British will take it upon themselves to restore "Things To Come" to its full glory, with a complete 113-minute print (the Englewood is the standard 90-or-so minutes).That will be a great day for fans of science fiction film. But until then, Englewood has rendered a tremendous service to lovers of this movie. Get it. Cherish it.
on July 3, 1999
Two stars for the film print used on this DVD -- but FIVE STARS for the original film itself. The film "Things To Come" has been called cold, distant, intellectually contrived ... but it is truly one of the most remarkable early films, predicting the rise of savior technology from the ashes of terrible world wars. Like "Contact," "Things to Come" explores the Cartesian division between science and faith, exploring the schism between universal technology and provincial tribalism. Its views of the perfect technocracy of 2036 must be viewed in the context of the 1936 film, but it also weirdly echoes today's "information age" progress. It is most unfortunate that this great film is so badly marred in this DVD edition by such a terrible print. Much of the sound is muffled; the brightness of the print pulsates perceptably; and even the famous ending (the last, wordless, mouthed line) is cut because the film print on which it was taken was tattered. Do NOT waste your money on even this inexpensive version. It is a shame that people -- especially young people who may never have seen this masterpiece -- will view this marred version. DVD companies should stop rushing into production the worst of these film prints! and only produce the finest -- "all or nothing, which shall it be?..."
on April 25, 2000
Having seen Things To Come on VHS, I looked forward to buying it on DVD. When I received it, however, the reproduction was so poor as to render it essentially unviewable. In the initial scenes the images are so murky that I was often unable to make out the faces of the principal characters. I only knew who was speaking because I'd seen the movie before. In all scenes the image is extremely fuzzy, looking exactly like the background when a camera is tightly focused on a face in the foreground. Sadly then, this DVD is worthless and you should wait for a better version. Note that the movie itself is a science-fiction classic, and ought to be seen by anyone interested in the part of the genre that was not usually shown in drive-ins. Note carefully, however, that most of the reviews are based on the VHS version, not the DVD. These reviews of course give no hint of the unacceptably low technical quality of the current DVD release. Just as an aside, I hope I'm not one of those people who spots a speck of dust and declares the room filthy. I'm actually being kind to the folks who made this DVD!
on June 4, 2013
NOTE: THIS REVIEW APPLIES TO THE CRITERION COLLECTION DVD OF THINGS TO COME, ISSUED IN JUNE OF 2013.
Let me start by saying that I made a small contribution to part of this release, in the form of an account of the music from the film -- but I had no role in any other aspect of the release, and have no participation in the sales or other activities surrounding the Criterion Collection DVD (or ANY other DVD edition) of this movie, nor did I have anything to do with the elements of the release about which I'm about to comment.
That said, I can safely say that the picture and sound quality of the movie itself as presented on this DVD (the FIRST authorized video release of the movie, at least on this side of the Atlantic, incidentally, and taken from the BFI's restored edition) are both stunning -- I'm old enough, and was lucky enough to have seen THINGS TO COME long before the wave of degraded, faded, worn out, and chopped up editions of the movie began filling the airwaves in the 1980s, at a time when there were still authorized 35mm prints of the movie around; and this release is a match for those 35mm sources and THEN some, for sheer quality in the detail, contrast, and richness, of the picture and the sound. It's the best the picture has looked and sounded in my experience since I first saw it in 1969, and it's better than that presentation (which was on a proper, network owned-and-operated TV station, incidentally -- on Christmas Day, no less, maybe because of the film's opening sequence?), as well.
As to the running time, it's 97 minutes -- that IS the running time of the movie, period. THINGS TO COME was previewed at 117 minutes (and perhaps even a longer version at one point), and subsequently cut down several times before its actual general release at 97 minutes, and was later cut to 92 and then 89 minutes; but 97 minutes is what there is of the movie. Unlike, say, Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS (1927), which was actually released in Germany (albeit briefly) at its full, 153 minute running time before being cut -- and which had full-length prints sent to distributors in various markets on different continents -- THINGS TO COME only ever went out at 97 minutes into general release, so there aren't any "loose" or unaccounted for long prints of it to be found around the world (as, fortunately, there were with METROPOLIS). There do exist stills representing scenes and characters that were cut from the film before release, and an "alternate cut" of the movie, incorporating those stills and other visual elements to fill out the "lost" sections in tandem with surviving script portions representing the deleted scenes, has been done for release in the UK; but there is no actual 117 minute, or 107-minute, or 100-whatever minute version of the movie, or whatever the frequently-cited figure is for an "extended" cut of the movie, to be seen intact as a finished, complete film. (That's anymore than there will ever -- EVER -- be an official "extended" cut of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, incorporating the scenes [was it 16 minutes' worth?] that Stanley Kubrick edited out after the previews but before the actual opening of the movie, in the basement of the MGM building on Sixth Avenue in New York. Reviews of the film from the opening even cited the still-visible splices at that point; and that removed footage is gone forever). And anyone who wants to rectify that situation on THINGS TO COME would have to take a page out of one of Mr. Wells's other playbooks, and perfect a time machine, journey back to London in 1936, and persuade Alexander Korda to save the deleted portions of the movie (good luck with that . . . . though if one could do such a thing for this sort of purpose, I'd sooner do it for the lost reels of Erich Von Stroheim's GREED and Orson Welles's THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, ahead of THINGS TO COME . . . . )
I'll also add, equally important to anything else about this release is David Kalat's audio commentary for the movie on the Criterion DVD -- it is a wonder: Charming, witty, informative, and entertaining, and this comment comes from someone who has done about 30 audio commentaries in his time.
As to the movie itself, it's even more fascinating than it looks and sounds, if that's possible to say (how can a movie be more fascinating than it looks or sounds? read on . . . .) -- a ground-breaking social/science-fiction film of its time, purporting to deal with the next 100 years of human history starting with the Second World War (the start of which it only gets wrong by about 15 months) and its aftermath. THINGS TO COME is, in many ways, akin to Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, a later monumental look into the future, and the relationships of humankind to technology, and technology to power (questions also raised by Lang's METROPOLIS, which Wells thought a very silly movie). And THINGS TO COME shares many characteristics with Kubrick's movie, including a coldness that repelled a lot of audience members in 1936, and characters who are mostly more symbolic figures than dramatic creations). And the whole thing was initally conceived by H. G. Wells as a near-operatic creation, with the music giving the work its structure, shape, and texture (and the music still mostly does, even though it wasn't shot that way except for the building-of-the-new-world sequences in the last third of the movie).
In other words, yes, it's all well worth buying.
on March 28, 2001
I just want to reiterate the comments below that this new Image Entertainment DVD release is by far the finest version of this sci-fi classic that I've ever seen. Though not perfect, it towers above the many public domain versions that have been floating around over the years. Though occasionally a bit pompous, this memorable film is justifiably notable for its striking production design--the futuristic portion may be the part everyone remembers but the design of the post-apocalyptic Everytown by William Cameron Menzies is just as impressive. "Things To Come" is a worthy addition to one's sci-fi DVD collection.
on March 4, 2001
Please note that some of the reviews below refer to the two previous DVD releases, both of which are low-priced (one is the double-feature that also includes "Journey to the Center of the Sun"). Picture and sound quality on these other releases is poor; however the Image release, priced at around ..., features a new transfer that boasts a clear sharp picture through most of the movie and an improved soundtrack (on the cheap editions, the dialogue was frequently unintelligible). If you are a fan of this movie, this is the DVD version you should buy.
I agree with some reviewers that Wells's vision of the future is fascist in some respects. The vaulting ambition of human PRO-gress depicted in this movie is inspiring to a degree, but is laid on pretty thick. Viewed in the context in which it was made, this is a very enjoyable film, featuring some first-rate production design and visual effects, particularly for the time, along with a lantern-jawed performance by Raymond Massey that is stirring if not always believable.
This is a worthwhile film for all science fiction fans, in my opinion, and should be seen at least once. If you're going to buy it on DVD, though, I recommend you spend the extra bucks and buy the IMAGE version.
on February 4, 2003
Image Entertainment's DVD edition of H.G. Wells "Things To Come" is a welcome improvement over other home video editions. The package and marketing information state that this edition features "a new video transfer from original source materials", and so it evidently does. Yet, these words could be misleading. Image may have obtained the use of an authorized "original" studio print for this edition, and I appreciate their doing so, but this does not look like an "original" print in the usual sense.
In 1935 & '36 London Pictures spent a fortune to make "Things To Come". The movie is a sober warning of the horrors and retrograde effects of war on society. At the time of its appearance, the world still suffered under the brutal memories of the World War that ended in 1918, and at the time of the film's release, with rumblings of the rising Nazi war machine in Europe, the public was in no mood to be reminded of war's frightful prospect. Audiences shunned "Things To Come" in droves. The studio never came close to recovering the costs of the picture, and ended up abandoning it. The rights eventually fell into the public domain, and there it has languished, with numerous opportunists making duplicate prints from the existing original 16mm prints. These shoddily made prints were transfered to tape, and cheaply copied to VHS tapes that are unviewable as anything other than a poor suggestion of the film's original glory.
By abandoning the film, the studio didn't bother to preserve the negatives, and the scarce original release prints made in the 30's and the hundreds of unauthorized duplications are all that remain. Since most studio films are shot in 35mm, a 35mm print would be the closest descendent from the camera negative, and the best existing source from which to make a new negative, or a video transfer. Since most 35mm prints are destroyed when a film is withdrawn from theatrical distribution, very few, if any 35mm prints of "Things To Come" have survived to our time. It is therefore not surprising that Image Entertainment's video transfer is not from an original 35mm print. Indeed, strictly speaking, it isn't really from an original 16mm print, either.
If you duplicate an old photograph without first shooting a negative from the photo, the final printed duplicate will not look much like the original photo: it will lack contrast and range of gray scale. Yet, that is how most 16mm "duped" movie prints are made. Printing of movies is very expensive, and shooting an intermediate negative doubles the expense if only a single positive duplication is made. What's more, 16mm offers a very tiny frame from which to shoot a negative. An intermediate negative shot from a 16mm print would perhaps produce better contrast and range of gray tone, but because it is an added step in the duplication process, it further diminishes the final image resolution and adds more distortion and noise in the optical sound track.
The source elements for this DVD edition are not your typical "duped" 16mm print. They appear to be printed from a negative generated by reduction from a 35mm POSITIVE print. It also appears that exposure correction may have been applied to various scenes during the printing process. This then is probably a studio duplicate using a 16mm duped reduction inter-negative, resulting in a 16mm print with fine contrast and gray tones, while still exhibiting good image resolution and sound. The sound for this negative may have been electro-optically transfered, thus reducing the distortion and noise contributed by optics-only duplication, and nearly matches the sound quality of a true original 16mm print. The sound is so primitive however, that it is hard to be certain. Nevertheless, the dialog comes through nearly as well as from original 16mm studio prints of other titles from this period. The music, however, is a bit distorted and shrill at times.
Having gone to the trouble to make a 16mm reduction inter-negative, it is surprising that the 35mm source print for it wasn't first cleaned up. There are emulsion lines, and a lot of dirt that could have been removed fairly economically. My guess is that the inter-negative was made long ago, before methods for line removal had been developed and before the film was felt important enough for such maintenance. Nevertheless, the results, while hardly gorgeous, are the best I've seen of this title, and the DVD should bear up well to repeated or extended viewing.
I find Daniel P. B. Smith's comments (elsewhere on this page) telling. I quote: "In the late sixties, I saw a clean print of this movie in a New York theatre and it blew me away. ...it is visually spectacular.... The sound was...crisp and clear and capable of delivering the impact of the Arthur Bliss music." I envy you, Daniel.
Just because such a 35mm print was still extant in the 60's is no proof that such a print still exists more than 30 years later, although it seems likely. It is lamentable that the film has not been digitized, and so preserved for all time, using original 35mm elements. This is a visually ground-breaking film which continues to impress viewers as well as influence film makers, and it will no doubt continue to do so; but unless a collector comes forward with an original 35mm print for high resolution digital transfer, future generations may be consigned to view it thru a glass, darkly. But, at least with this DVD, the glass is now significantly less dark. Thank you Image Entertainment for taking pains to obtain this print.
on March 5, 2008
Don't waste your money on this DUD! Reel Classics completely screwed up this classic by transcribing it to wide screen aspect ratio (16:9), it should be regular old 4:3. The result is that all of the characters look FAT, particularly their faces and legs. I tried to correct this on four different DVD players, to no avail. They have turned a true Sci-Fi classic into a visual comedy. Is this what we are in store for with the transition to HD?? How many years will it take the DVD industry to get this stuff right? Does Amazon check for these obvious flaws in the products they sell?
on June 22, 2013
If you're someone who appreciates classic movies, then chances are you've been gnashing your teeth over the fact that such an important title like THINGS TO COME (London Films, 1936) hasn't been properly distributed on home video. Well, you can sigh with relief because Criterion's new Blu-ray release of H.G. Wells' prophetic, groundbreaking production is a joy to behold. Finally, the dazzling imagery of this film emerges from the fog of public domain dupiness.
THINGS TO COME was an ambitious undertaking at the time, not only in its subject matter - that of predicting 100 years into the future - but also in its cinematic creation. This was the first time that a noted author was directly involved in every aspect of adapting one of his novels for the screen. Wells collaborated closely with everyone; from producer Alexander Korda and director William Cameron Menzies, to set designer Vincent Korda and composer Arthur Bliss, to cinematographer Georges Perinal and special effects supervisor Ned Mann. While there were clashes over creative control, everyone's contribution remains intact making THINGS TO COME a testament to their considerable talent.
Although Wells was adamant toward having his film differ in every respect from Fritz Lang's futuristic epic METROPOLIS (UFA, 1927), similarities between both link them in the minds of many sci-fi aficionados. The scope of the sets, the archetypal characters, the idea of a utopian society, the masses ruled by an elitist class dedicated to technological advancement, the discontented mob rising against the elite - these are all common denominators in METROPOLIS and THINGS TO COME. There are significant differences too, in that Lang didn't make specific predictions whereas Wells accurately foretold another World War and a lunar expedition. In depicting the latter, Wells' scientific mechanics were off by using a "space gun" (Lang got the physics right in 1929 with UFA's WOMAN IN THE MOON), but this was a dramatic choice to show how a weapon of war could be used for a constructive purpose. It effectively brings the film full circle from the violent opening scenes of an aerial attack and anti-aircraft artillery to the hopeful space gun blast-off at the end. It also recalls the lunar launch from the very first sci-fi film, Georges Melies' A TRIP TO THE MOON (Star Films, 1902), in which the rocket is literally shot from a cannon.
There are those who find fault with the rather cold demeanor of several characters in THINGS TO COME, but I disagree; Technological advancement has its obvious advantages, but I could see how its side effect could be a decline in emotional interaction. Indeed, there's already some indication of this in our current tech-obsessed, insatiable society. I like how the characters stand for certain types, symbols if you will, rather than individual personalities. THINGS TO COME is a broad, visionary tale with a message, not a character study.
The visual design, even today, is stunning, and when combined with that terrific music, it all produces a unique and memorable film experience. It anticipates by thirty-two years "things to come" with Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (MGM, 1968).
Criterion's disc is off a 35mm fine-grain composite print and looks/sounds fantastic. For a movie whose effect depends so much on how well its design comes across, this Blu-ray of THINGS TO COME is the last word in quality. Special features include an intelligent and informative commentary by David Kalat, an interview on the film's design by Christopher Freyling, a visual essay on Arthur Bliss's score by Bruce Eder, unused effects footage by artist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, a 1936 audio reading about the Wandering Sickness, and an illustrated booklet with an essay by Geoffrey O'Brien.
My highest recommendation.